­VIVA! stirs up campus

Regina Siefert

Latin American culture is laden with good food, good music, great dancing and a strong sense of community, and ­VIVA! is dedicated to promoting those rich aspects. The student organization devoted to Latin American culture used to be called the Latin American Student Organization, says the group’s co-president, Natasa Milosevic. However, the name made it seem too exclusive. “We saw a large interest with people who were not Hispanic,” she explains. Their solution was to revive ­VIVA! in the fall of last year. According to the mission statement posted on its website, “­VIVA! is an organization dedicated to promoting substantive cultural discourse. We as a group would like to expand awareness of Hispanic culture reaching members both within the Lawrence campus and the greater community.” It goes on to say that they are open to anyone who is interested in participating “regardless of race, gender, religion, class, creed, or national origin.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Now, what does ­VIVA! do?
“Basically, this year our focus is on community outreach. Our purpose for fundraising this term is to raise money to go to Chicago to do community outreach there,” Milosevic says. “We’re trying to get ­VIVA! out of the Lawrence bubble.” George Barrios, also co-president of ­VIVA!, says, “My hope for this group is that we really get active in the Appleton community.” He also explains that he hopes that ­VIVA! will eventually have its own program to help out in the community rather than volunteering through other Latin American groups in the area like the Hispanic Interagency, Latino Link, and the Hispanic Culture Coalition.
Not all of ­VIVA! is about work, however. “It’s fun being in ­VIVA!,” Barrios states confidently. “Anyone can tell you that.” Natasa adds, “We’re always having fun, even if we’re doing hard work, too.” ­VIVA! also hosts events on campus. Last year there were several performances, dances, a poetry reading and empanada sales. They’ve been quite active this term as well, hosting Viva el Baile, a dance complete with a pepper-eating contest, an empanada sale and community outreach through volunteering with the Hispanic Interagency. They also cosponsored the performance of Francesco de Paula Soler, the Spanish classical guitarist, earlier this month. “Our events are inter-worked with the Spanish department, so sometimes students can get credit for attending,” Barrios adds.
­VIVA! usually meets Wednesdays at 9 p.m., but times change according to everyone’s needs. “We’re very flexible,” Milosevic says. “We’re not dictators. Anybody can participate. Anybody can give input. We’re very open to new suggestions.” In fact, as she explains, the idea of the pepper-eating contest came from freshman Ian Silver-Ramp, who is not a part of ­VIVA!’s board and was attending his first meeting. “As a club itself we have a lot of members, but there are only a couple that always come through,” George says. “We have the money and the resources to get people interested,” he adds. Milosevic also explains that ­VIVA! is always looking for new participants.
­VIVA! events are always well advertised, thanks to members Lara Manzanares and Darion Soares. So next time you see the signs posted everywhere for a ­VIVA! event, why not go see what it’s all about?